Something Like the Gods:
A Cultural History of the Athlete from Achilles to LeBron
by Stephen Amidon
$24.99 List Price
When I was eleven years old, my room was a shrine to the New York City sports stars of the 1980s. The posters on my wall included the Giants’ fearsome linebacker Lawrence Taylor, the Knicks’ quicksilver forward Bernard King, and the Mets’ triumvirate of awesomeness: first baseman Keith Hernandez, outfielder Darryl Strawberry, and their phenomenal nineteen-year-old pitcher Dwight Gooden. I imitated their every move on the field, and fantasized—in an elementary-school-boy fashion—about their lives off the field. What I didn’t know was that all of these athletes had serious love affairs with cocaine. In retrospect, it was like having posters of the Scarface all-stars. Over the next few years, LT went to rehab, as did Darryl and Doc Gooden. Bernard admitted his past drug use, and Keith had to testify in a high-profile cocaine trial. My mother told me to take down the posters, and in my first act of obnoxious rebellion, I said, “Hell no.” I was being irrational, which I remember understanding at the time, but I just didn’t care if these athletes had problems when they were out of uniform. I knew who they were on the field—nothing less than supernatural beings, gods among men.
This penchant for placing athletes on platinum pedestals has skyrocketed over the last thirty years. How did we come to view athletes in a holy light? Stephen Amidon’s Something Like the Gods supplies straightforward and engaging answers. After reading it, I feel less crazy for my youthful enthusiasms, less sheepish, and less like I was a sheep—I was actually caught up in an idea that stretches back across